From the battle for talent to the AI revolution, advances in technology are driving change on a global scale. Yet this is not a faceless march of the machines. More than ever, technology serves the people. We are in control, disrupting ourselves and creating a better world. 

Each year, Accenture identifies the key technology trends that will make the greatest contributions to business change and growth. After six months of research and collaboration, the Technology Vision 2017 was released on January 26. The report outlines the five essential trends for the next 3-5 years, highlights disruptive technologies and illustrates how they will influence markets, organizations and governments around the world.

This year, the message of the Technology Vision is intertwined with two unifying themes: Technology for People and the rise of the Intelligent Enterprise. In keeping with last year’s theme, People First, the importance of human empowerment remains our guiding light. The opportunities for companies are exciting: to design the value chains of the future, build new digital ecosystems and set standards for these new macrocosms, transform their workforces into on-demand powerhouses, and tap into the endless possibilities of artificial intelligence to revolutionize customer interactions.

Technology Vision 2017: Latest technology innovations and trends

Over the next months, our thought leaders will share their vision for each of these technology trends, delving deeper into the key insights that will strengthen your organization. We will update this article on a regular basis, offering new perspectives on digital disruption and intelligent enterprise for 2017 and beyond.

Tech Trend 01: Optimizing UI with Artificial Intelligence

Image: TechVision 2017 trend 1: AI is the new UI

Back in the early ‘90s, most consumers had little use for mobile phones. Why carry one around when you can use the one at home? A sensible point, perhaps, but the times have changed. Nowadays, we can’t go anywhere without our smartphones. They have become the most personal devices we own.

Artificial intelligence is poised to make the same leap. Just this past year, we’ve seen a coming of age for smart solutions like Siri, Amazon Echo and online chatbots. Intelligent personal assistants are now everywhere, enabling novel interactions between humans and machines. Softbots listen to us, analyze our needs, help us navigate the web and the vast repositories of data that we’ve surrounded ourselves with. As they improve, the boundaries between people and technology will fade. Our technology is adapting to us.

This technology trend is of critical importance to many global industries, as it paves the way for the era of the intelligent enterprise. Due to increases in both raw computing power and the availability of useful data, artificial intelligence is no longer a white elephant. It has become a versatile technology that will allow companies to disrupt the way they do business. Industries that traditionally require large back offices to provide services – banking, insurance, telecom – will be able to automate key business processes, vastly improving their efficiency. At the same time, their AI will become part of their public face, interacting with their customers and carrying their brand into personal spaces that were previously inaccessible.

Tech Trend 02: Developing Value Chains and Digital Ecosystems

Image: TechVision 2017 trend #2: ecosystem power plays

When a client takes out a mortgage with your bank, they’re not buying the mortgage. They’re buying a home. This insight also applies when they take out travel insurance policies or energy contracts. It isn’t your product that drives their purchase, but what that product allows them to do: to journey safely to distant lands, or live in warmth, light and security.  And it’s the same everywhere. Just think about it. Are you buying a hospital bed, or are you buying the best healthcare? Are you buying a bank account, or are you buying optimized money management? Are you buying an electric car, or are you buying green transportation?

As consumers shift their attention from products to value, it is vital that organizations work to truly understand what their customers want and design their value chains accordingly. Companies need to be faster, smarter and more omnipresent than their competitors, leveraging key partnerships throughout the value chain to serve customers better and more completely than previously thought possible. In this regard, the Platform Revolution, one of last year’s fundamental technology trends, is just the start.

New digital ecosystems offer unprecedented opportunities to understand the wants and needs of your customers, but seizing them requires forward-thinking strategies and strong partnerships. To achieve new growth, you will have to carefully select the ecosystems that are most compatible with your added value and forge relationships that will help you outperform tomorrow’s competitors.

Tech Trend 03: Transitioning to On-Demand Workforces

Image: TechVision 2017 trend 3: workforce market place

The signs are clear wherever you look: we live in an age of accelerating change. The digital economy has disrupted the way we do business on a global scale. Traditional, siloed business models are falling everywhere while connected, on-demand value chains are climbing without stopping for breath. This puts immense pressure on workforce models: they must evolve, or become irrelevant. Hierarchical, bureaucratic management must make way for a new vision, one more aligned with the challenges of the times. The battle for talent is on, and the only way to win is to change the game.

On-demand labor platforms and liquid workforce initiatives are stepping up to the plate to do just that. Among digital-born companies, the trend is to use technology to bridge talent gaps quickly and efficiently. But this technology trend is not beholden to digital natives – any industry stands to gain from a flexible approach to managing and motivating their workforce, especially those who already rely heavily on IT solutions.  

As the nature of work and social contracts continues to evolve, companies have a chance to shape the future from the ground up. Creating talent marketplaces, using the promise of digital disruption to drive business speed, and fostering new modes of engagement and productivity – these are the steps that will make an enterprise truly intelligent and more liquid, helping you unleash the potential of your people.

Tech Trend 04: The Importance of Human-Centered Design

Image: Technology trend 2017 #4: Design for humans

With the advent of big data, we have entered an era where companies can know more about their customers than their customers know about themselves. Through next-gen analytics, these datasets are putting awesome power in the hands of global organizations. To wield this power responsibly, we must embrace human-centered design and follow the trend of technology for people. But doing so is not simply a moral imperative: it is the gateway to people-first value propositions that will delight your customers and strengthen your brand.

More than anything, design for humans is based on trust. Customers entrust businesses with their data, and these businesses would do well to reward that trust with solutions and services that are tailored to their needs. This will help build emotional connections, which result in greater loyalty, increased mindshare and a solid foundation for long-term revenue.

To reap the rewards of the human-centered technology trend, it is vital to understand that the goals of the people you serve are your goals. Approach challenges from a user-centric perspective. Listen to your clients. Personalize all interactions with your company. Work with end users to identify much-needed optimizations and potential delighters. Forge partnerships that will help you deliver on new promises.

In the end, your customers are hoping for one thing: a value chain that genuinely adds value to their lives.

Tech Trend 05: Setting the Standard in Uncharted Lands

Image: Technology trend 2017 #5: The uncharted

One of mankind’s defining features is our insatiable desire to explore the unexplored, to see what has never been seen, to chart the uncharted. There is a fearlessness in us, a spark that drives us to take risks and seek greatness, and applying this quintessential human quality to business is one of the defining technology trends for the coming years.

From the travel industry to healthcare and manufacturing – every industry must be prepared to head out into unknown lands. To enter new markets, even if the preconditions are not quite met. There is no sense in abandoning great opportunities because the legal framework is lacking. Better to forge ahead and help build the foundation than to step aside and be overtaken by your competitors.

Take self-driving cars and 3D printing, for example. These disruptive technologies stand to revolutionize business, taking the human element out of long-distance transport or making the very concept obsolete with local fabrication. At the same time, they raise difficult questions. Companies must be willing to look across boundaries and meet these challenges proactively.

Of course, stepping out into the unknown requires courage. It takes strong partnerships, innovative vision and an open mind. But innovation is no longer optional. The future belongs to the bold. And for those who do take that step, Accenture’s Innovation Architecture will make sure you’re never moving forward alone.

This year’s research report is all about technology for people. The five IT trends and innovations in the 2017 Technology Vision will empower people to invent and achieve more in the era of the intelligent enterprise. Download the full report here.